“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
My apologies for taking a quote from the civil rights movement and using it to speak about basketball, but the brilliance of that quote is how it stands the test of time, and situations.
Last night, Carmelo Anthony displayed that in a time of challenge and controversy, he’s still the same old selfish Melo, despite all the rah-rah back-slapping going on in New York in this early season’s comfort and convenience. When the Knicks were finally challenged by a playoff atmosphere, by the punches in the mouth, both figurative and literal, they followed their leader over the cliff.
There’s no doubt last night’s officiating favored the Celtics. That’s not to say the calls were one-sided at all. But it seemed after five minutes, the officials collectively decided that calling every foul would lead to a four-hour free throw contest, rather than a tw0-and-a-half hour NBA game. So they largely swallowed their whistles, and let both teams just hammer the hell out of one another.
For Boston, this is Nirvana. If there was ever a team in the NBA that needed a “Fight Club” to feel alive, its these Kevin Garnett-led Celtics. You have your coffee to wake you up before work, the Celtics have hard fouls and expletives to wake them up.
So when the refs threw their hands up and said “you guys figure it out,” the Celtics shut the lid on the pressure cooker and turned it way up. And in the end, it was the Knicks who exploded.
That’s the funny thing about pressure situations. No matter who you pretend to be, no matter where you pretend to be it, the pressure will make you revert to who you really are.
While the elbows, knees, pushes, and trash talk turned the Celtics into a complete ball-moving, ball-hawking team, it reverted the Knicks into a bunch of guys with capes, playing hero ball in an effort to beat the Celtics themselves. When Anthony, the newly-named Player of the Week, splashed a late 3 after a game full of misses, he spent the entire return trip yapping in Garnett’s face “I’m coming back… I’m coming back… I’m coming back….”
Not “we’re coming back.”
“I’M coming back”
The next trip down, Melo barely let everyone cross half court before heaving a three. It missed. And the pressure mounted. Time and time again, shots flitted off of Melo’s fingers and off the rim. He shot 2-10 in the fourth quarter. His final made field goal of the quarter came at the 8:52 mark.
And through it all, he and Kevin Garnett kept talking… and kept jawing… and kept elbowing…
The double-technicals did little to stop it, but it was KG who managed to keep his composure… talking just enough to keep pouring gas on Melo’s fire, but not enough to get him into more trouble. There was a point where Anthony violently slapped the ball out of Garnett’s hands after a whistle, and referee Tony Brothers paused as if he was going to give Anthony a second technical foul, only to decide he didn’t want to throw him out of a close game.
In the end, he did the Celtics a favor, and Melo a disservice, because Melo’s rage had at that point gone beyond his control. When the final buzzer sounded, he raced back towards the Celtics locker room rather than his own. And while none of the players or coaches would snitch, there are reports that he was outside the Celtics locker room making a scene.
And then this happened.
Hours after the game, at a point where guys have iced, gotten massages, showered, spoken to the media, gotten dressed, and started tweeting… Melo’s rage was still boiling to a point of confrontation. The immaturity and selfishness just haven’t gone away.
You can excuse, as KG said, “heat of the battle,” stuff. When the testosterone is pumping and you’ve got nearly 20,000 fans going crazy, it can be hard not to get caught up in the moment.
But this. This is different. And this is why the Knicks, as good as they are, give everyone pause when asked if they’re serious title contenders.
Oh, they have the talent. They’ve shown they have the ability to beat anyone. But what they lack is the ability to rise above the muck. Because last night was playoff basketball at its finest. Even Knicks fans, while upset with the loss, enjoyed the hell out of the game. Those games will happen again. And Melo will lose it again.
You can chant MVP all you want, Madison Square Garden, but MVP’s don’t stalk guys to their team bus. Because that’s who he is.